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Starting and finishing in Edinburgh this fairly short tour of part of East Lothian takes in some superb coastal scenery, fascinating harbours, castles, churches, and a motor museum and an air museum. You could drive it in a couple of hours: but be warned, you could easily spend a couple of days or more exploring all this small area has to offer!
The main circular route shown on the map in dark blue is 71 miles long, all on good quality roads. An excursion to Chesters Hill Fort is a couple of miles each way from Athelstaneford, and a diversion to the Myreton Motor Museum is a mile and a half each way from Aberlady. The description below assumes you travel in an anti-clockwise direction, but the route can be travelled equally well in a clockwise direction: or you can mix and match any of the elements from it as you please. Distances within the main East Lothian section of the tour are all quite short.
From Edinburgh you should find your way onto the A1 heading east, following signposts towards Berwick-upon-Tweed. Except during the rush hour, you'll find yourself clear of the city surprisingly quickly and heading along a good quality and never excessively busy dual carriageway.
The route assumes you come off the A1 at the first junction signposted Haddington and take a look at this very attractive and remarkably unspoiled market town. A short walk from the centre of the town is St Mary's Church, the largest parish church in Scotland: though only since the previously roofless choir was restored in the early 1970s. On the east side of Haddington is the interesting ruin of St Martin's Kirk.
As you head east from Haddington, be careful not to return to the A1, or you will find yourself on a new stretch of road with no junctions until you get to Dunbar. It's a superb road, but it bypasses much of what the area has to offer. Instead take the A199 east. This is the old A1, and you should look out for a turning on the left signposted to the Museum of Flight and/or the Concorde Experience. Following the signs takes you to East Fortune airfield, and to Scotland's National Museum of Flight. This is a great day out.
While making your way back to the A199 look out for a sign on your right to Athelstaneford and the Flag Heritage Centre. This unspoiled village is reputed to be the place in which Scotland's national flag, the Saltire was founded in the 700s. The Flag Heritage Centre is housed in an old doocot behind Athelstaneford Parish Kirk. If ancient monuments are your thing, you may wish to consider an excursion a couple of miles west from Athelstaneford (or north from Haddington) to take in Chesters Hill Fort, but with a lot else to see on this trip we'd call it a real optional extra.
Heading west again on the A199, look out for East Linton, another extremely attractive village, whose character is only added to by the bridge carrying the east coast main line railway across the main street. A slight diversion from East Linton takes you to Preston Mill, one of the oldest mechanically intact water-driven meal mills in Scotland, on the north east side of the village.
The furthest east you travel on this tour is Dunbar, a town with a huge amount of character, with some fascinating harbours, and with the very partial remains of a castle clinging tenuously to the rocks towering over the main harbour. From Dunbar you retrace your steps a little way along the A199 to the junction with the A198, signposted to North Berwick, which you follow north.
This takes you past the end of the picture postcard village of Tyninghame, while a little further on a road on the right takes you to a car park at Tyninghame Links, and paths giving access to the coast. A sharp turn in the A198 in the village of Whitekirk takes you past the front of St Mary's Church (another one), a church with a fascinating and ancient history.
A couple of miles north another right angle turn, this time to the left, at a farmstead called Auldhame, is the key to a little known and easily overlooked treasure. A private road heading east from Auldhame takes you through a coin operated barrier and along a track to the beach at Seacliff. Here you find a stunning beach, one of Scotland's most remarkable harbours, a ruined castle, a burned out mansion house, and amazing views of nearby Tantallon Castle. Access to Tantallon Castle itself is from a signposted turn on the A198 a little further north.
North Berwick, though it can be busy at times, is a real treat for anyone with an interest in beaches, the sea, boats, or harbours. North Berwick Law, immediately to the south of the town, offers magnificent views after a steep climb, while the Scottish Seabird Centre and the nearby ruins of St Andrew's Old Kirk are both of interest. West of North Berwick the A198 bypasses the village of Dirleton. It's well worth seeing, both for the remarkable village green layout, and for the relatively well preserved castle in the village complete with its extensive gardens.
West of Dirleton is Gullane, with another superb beach and almost surrounded by golf courses (including one of the world's best, Muirfield). Beyond Gullane the road jinks south and east, taking you past the car park for Aberlady Bay en route into Aberlady itself. A mile and a half along minor roads from Aberlady is the Myreton Motor Museum.
West of Aberlady, following signs to Edinburgh will take you back to the A1 and to the capital. But if time permits we suggest sticking alongside the coast. This route takes you through the twin villages of Cockenzie & Port Seton (you need to follow the minor side road through the villages to see their harbours and appreciate them at their best). A little inland is Seton Collegiate Church. West from Cockenzie you go through Prestonpans en route to Musselburgh, and if you continue to stick to the coast, you are taken through Edinburgh's old resort town of Portobello.